Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health
By Tracey Dowdy
Parents trying to work from home, teach their children, referee disputes, and keep everyone fed aren’t the only ones stressed out during this quarantined season.
Common Sense Media and Survey Monkey polled over 800 U.S. teens, trying to get a sense of how they’re coping with the multitude of ways the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and how they’re staying connected. The results aren’t surprising – tweens and teens are stressed out and relying heavily on social media and texting to try to fill the gap that social distancing is having on us all.
According to their poll:
- Ninety-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have had their classes canceled, 41% have had no school at all, and more than a quarter say it’s hard to find a place to study at home.
- Teens not only fear that a loved one will become infected, but they also worry about the family’s finances, particularly Black and Latinx teens.
- Roughly 40% feel “more lonely than usual” and bout the same number say they feel “about as lonely as usual” during this season. Parents may be surprised to hear these same teens say that social media and texting can’t replace close association and face to face interaction with friends.
- One significant shift is that when compared to pre-pandemic times, more teens are going directly to news organizations for information rather than getting it second hand through family and friends.
- Unsurprisingly, tweens also report feeling stressed about school, family and friend’s wellbeing, and understanding what’s happening.
- Individuals who struggle with mental health report that their negative feelings are particularly heightened right now.
So what’s a weary parent to do? Don’t despair – there are ways that you can support your child’s mental health that will provide them with the tools they need today, and that will equip them for challenges they face as they mature and become independent.
- One benefit that’s come from being quarantined is that teens report feeling more connected to family than ever. Read the hints they drop and invite them to watch a movie together, play a game, or play in the backyard. It doesn’t need to be structured or planned – look for spontaneous moments to connect.
- Right now, texting and social media are hyper-important to teens who’ve grown up with devices in the palm of their hands. If the need for discipline arises and reduced screen time was your go-to pre-quarantine, consider choosing another way to address the issue. With the level of isolation, your teen is already feeling, cutting off what social connection they have may exacerbate the problem.
- Because many of the teens report that social media and texting are a large part of their coping mechanism, consider allowing them to use your phone, tablet, or computer if the family is used to sharing. There are simple, secure, and effective ways to set parental controls, so you don’t need to worry about them changing settings or accessing private information.
- Create new routines to find your new normal. It’s unlikely that we’ll be back to normal soon, so build some structure into your days and nights. It can be as simple as setting up mealtimes, “packing” snacks for the day, scheduling FaceTime chats with grandparents, or determining “from nine to noon we do school work.”
- MyFridgeFood lets you plan a menu based on the foods you have on hand, so let your kids take over dinner one or two nights a week. If they’re little, allow them to look through the pantry and fridge for what’s available and help them search for a recipe. If they’re older, go one step further and have them cook. This isn’t just busy work – these are life skills that will take them far.
- Anyone else celebrate a milestone during this quarantine? I had a birthday and my friend Leah had a baby. Students are missing their graduation, prom, recitals, and a myriad of other events. Reassure them you’ll celebrate once we get the all-clear – put a date on the calendar if that helps. Remind them this will end – countries who were impacted first are transitioning out of quarantine and someday soon-ish, we will too.
- Remind them of all the good that’s happening. Many people are recovering, charities are still being supported, and researchers around the world are working on a vaccine. Some of their favorite celebrities are doing what they can to encourage us. Some are reading bedtime stories on Instagram (@savewithstories), releasing new music, or just sending some positive vibes out there – check out Some Good News by John Krasinski, complete with a logo and background that was drawn by his daughters.
The most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. You know your child better than anyone and recognize when a meltdown is coming. Validate their feelings of unease and frustration – we all feel that way sometimes. Be open, be compassionate, and let them vent. You don’t have to solve the problem – you need to ride out the storm alongside them and reassure them you’ll be there, supporting them in any way you can.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.